|Album Review: Genesis Owusu—Smiling With No Teeth|
Smiling With No Teeth
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For some, Australian hip-hop might instantly conjure images of prematurely aged men with chunky DC trainers, ridiculously sized jeans and a Victoria Bitter-stained High Focus hoodie, and for the most part that is entirely accurate. However, this is merely the first of many preconceptions Canberra rapper Genesis Owusu is looking to topple. From the foreboding jazz hip-hop of his debut E.P. “Cardrive”, Genesis has slowly morphed his sound into an avant-garde hip-hop punk funk tour de force. He’s now got that extremely niche market completely cornered with the release of his new album Smiling With No Teeth. The whole album is a visceral sonic attack on the senses and should cement Genesis Owusu as an international renaissance man.
The album was recorded with a live band of frankly outrageous funkiness and Genesis leaps on this opportunity to rap and sing like a man possessed, nonchalantly taking us from pounding industrial outages to smooth, breezy excursions with undeniable commercial appeal. He tackles the subject of race prominently throughout the release, as the only Black child growing up in his area of Canberra he is uniquely placed to provide a different perspective.
The track “The Other Black Dog” uses the racist term which was shouted at Genesis as a kid as a refrain over the top of a riotous no wave banger. The track kick-starts proceedings to find Genesis on prodigal form, flexing with a crafty turn of phrase and a technically pristine yet effortless flow.
“That's how the story will go
The dog with the blackest of bones
It rides on the back of my clothes
And flocks with a murder like crows”
This raucous start barely gets a chance to peel itself from the sofa before it’s right back there with the following two tracks “Centrefold” and “Waitin’ on Ya”, in which the band drift into smooth, warm soul peppered with spaced out organs and Genesis dishes out some sickly sweet falsetto vocals which glide over the bouncy basslines. But beneath the silky veneer sits the underlying unsettling mood, lurking, ready to rear its head if the listener gets too complacent.
“Don’t Need You” is a deceptively upbeat number about an ex-lover and includes devastating personal attacks such as “Your ass is stinky, and you built like a mole.” I understand that quoting lyrics out of context can make anybody look silly, but this one did catch me a little off-guard.
“Drown” is an explicitly punk song, sounding like Dâm-Funk remixing The Clash. We have seen artists try their hand at every style and do them all so poorly we forget their original sound and write them off. Genesis Owusu adapts so easily to every style, casually making each his own, you start wondering if there’s a genre he couldn’t conquer. Breakcore, perhaps.
Some of the songs in the album roll into each other like an extended jam session, where meticulous planning and spontaneous improvisation occupy the same turf and sound like they’re having a great time. The jam session is cut short, however, by one of the standout tracks, “I Don’t See Colour”. The track is driven by a simple hand drum rhythm, giving Genesis all the space he needs to go for the jugular on police brutality, systemic racism and profiling. The urgency on the track is palpable and the message is clear, enhanced by the dulcet tones rather than distracted by them.
“A Black face a black hoodie a political symbol
And the devil comes down at the crash of a cymbal
Now the thimble now the pick, they did something to the prick
Jack be nimble Jack be quick, get to running with the stick
The burning of a bush told me that was great
The burning of a cross told me to play it safe
Cos somehow my actions represent a whole race
It’s tough to move different when your face is our face”
“Black Dogs!” shares some superficial similarities with Kanye’s “Black Skinheads”, but somehow feels truer to the style Ye was trying to emulate, plus it sounds like it was made by someone whose head shares the same plane of reality as the rest of us. “Whip Cracker” pours a 40 of snake venom over religion, Neo-Nazis and woman-beaters to the point where they may never recover. This album was made by a man who clearly wants 100% of the smoke, not second-hand either.
At the back end of the album, we get treated to a nourishing bowl of uplifting soul, soft rock and rolling G-Funk. Genesis is callously manipulating our emotions and neck muscles with maximum effectiveness, to the point where it’s best to surrender control of the vehicle and let Jesus take the wheel.
Calling Genesis an Australian Andre 3000 would be lazy and misleading, but the flamboyance and spirit of adventure are a common silk thread. The lineage of both of these artists can of course be traced back to Prince with a thick, prominent, purple line, and his influence is stamping its platforms all over Smiling With No Teeth. It’s beautiful to see his legacy being continued in a conscious way that is still destined to destroy dancefloors when they become a thing again. Genesis Owusu’s next album could well be another complete stylistic overhaul, so it’s probably best to enjoy this style while it lasts. Show yourself some love, listen to this album and pack away any breakables.